Women in Tech, Interview with Sarah Frisk, Software Developer & Comic Artist

sarahfriskIt doesn’t have to be all work and no play in the world of STEM.  Sarah Frisk is a software developer by day and a comic artist by night. She shares her story about how she keeps up with both, how she became a software developer and advice for others interested in a similar career path.


Sarah Worsham: What type of work do you do as a software developer?

Sarah Frisk: I work as a software developer at a company called Portland Webworks. For the most part I specialize in front end web applications, but I do work with backend technology such as java and php as well.

Worsham: What’s your day-to-day like?

Frisk: First thing in the morning, caffeine. I’m not so much of a coffee drinker, but I love tea – so I’m normally pretty useless until I’ve had my chai latte in the morning. After that it’s 8 hours of coding, lately on just one or two projects, working with a small team. During my lunch break I’ll draw or surf the internet. Once work is done I’ll either drag myself to the gym, do some tabletop gaming with my friends, or work on my webcomic (be in art, or lately, a complete website redesign). I’ll pass out sometime around midnight to 1am, and then rinse and repeat.

Worsham: In your entire career, what’s been your favorite job or project and why?

Frisk: Ooo, this is a tough one. I tend to like parts of projects, especially when they give me a chance to explore new technologies I haven’t had a chance to explore yet. But I don’t know if I’ve had a favorite project overall.

As for jobs, that would be my current one. Seriously, I love the people I work with. They’re pretty awesome.

Worsham: Was there a particular event or moment when you decided to pursue a career in programming?

Frisk: When I was in middle school, my parents sent me to Math and Science Camp all the way up north near the border of Maine and Canada. The second year I went (I went there for about four summers), I decided to take the Web Development class. It was pretty much only HTML and some very basic inline styling, but I finding the whole thing fascinating. When I got home and told my parents about it, my father (who was a computer teacher at a middle school) brought home a book on HTML4, and encouraged me to explore my interest. A couple days a week after school, I would come home, and work on websites that would never actually see the light of the internet, only to start completely over again, when I learned of a new technique I wanted to explore. By the time I hit college, it no longer was just a hobby, but something I realized I wanted to continue doing full time.

Worsham: Did you have any mentors or role models growing up that led you to this career? How did they influence you?

Frisk: While growing up, it was mostly my parents. They were very encouraging of me exploring hobbies that interested me, and were willing to provide the means to help me explore those interests.

Worsham: What drew you to comics? (yes, pun intended!)

Frisk: As much as I love computers, near the end of college and after I found myself missing the right-brainy stuff I used to do. I had a degree in English I wasn’t using much, and I wasn’t doing anything with music, acting, or art I used to do before college. Coding had pretty much become my life.

So I started to draw. I had always been a huge doodler, my notes from classes were covered with them. At some point the idea of a comic about tavern wenches struck my fancy, and I became obsessed with the idea of it. Of course it took me three years before the idea moved out of a sketchbook and became a webcomic.

I was especially drawn to the idea of a webcomics mostly because it was the blend of coding, art, and writing. It was the perfect mix of different passions, because there are just so much you can do with webcomics that you can’t necessarily do with print – more if you actually know how to code. So webcomics pretty much became the perfect way for me to mix both the logical and creative sides of my brain together.

Worsham: Tell us about your favorite comic or drawing so far.

Frisk: Pretty much it’s just the one comic, Tavern Wenches. Tavern Wenches follows the adventures of the NPC tavern wenches of A Need for Mead as they face down lecherous PCs, point the way towards Epic Quests, and try to make sure the tavern is still standing come morning. It updates every Monday and Thursday. You can find it here: http://www.tavern-wenches.com/

Worsham: How do you balance fulfilling your potential as a programmer as well as a comic artist?

Frisk: I stay up reaaally late. Pretty much daytime is devoted to focusing on developing as a programmer, and evenings are spent developing my webcomic (although it varies if I’m focused on the art side or the coding side). I find giving myself a schedule to follow helps a lot too.

Worsham: What was your favorite game or toy growing up? Why?

Frisk: I’ll be honest, it was somewhat of a tie between Barbies and Legos. I used to pretend my Barbies were super secret spies going on top secret missions, or I used to find plays and have them act out all the parts with me as a director. I even had different voices I used to use for each character.

As for Legos, what kid (or adult) doesn’t like Legos? I used to make castles, spaceships, forts, you name it. Whatever I wanted to build, I could. To this day I still can’t help myself when I walk by a Lego aisle in a store. If it weren’t for the fact I have to firmly tell myself that my apartment really doesn’t have the space for a giant Lego set, I would still probably buy Legos to play with.

Worsham: Have you ever had any difficulties in your career due to your gender? How did you handle them?

Frisk: Thankfully not so much, any gender issues I’ve had have normally been outside of my career. The area where I work tends to be pretty positive about female programmers. Although there still isn’t a whole lot of us yet; or at least not many I’ve seen interacting with the local programming community. I’m hoping to improve that though!

Worsham: What advice do you have to anyone interested in a similar career?

Frisk: Don’t wait, explore now. Believe me, when it comes to programming, there is plenty of information out there. There are some really good sites especially for web development that you can find with a pretty simple Google search. Find a pet project that you’re interested in, and teach yourself through that. Nothing can help you learn faster than building something you’re passionate about.

Also check to find if there are any local meetup groups. In my experience, it’s always been a great place to learn new things and meet some really interesting people.

Worsham: In your opinion, how can we get more girls interested in STEM careers?

Frisk: By teaching girls at a young age that technology isn’t just a boy thing. It’s a girl thing too. I do think this is a shift that IS happening – I see more and more girls today playing video games than I did when I was a kid. And gaming can be a stepping stone into wanting to figure out HOW games work, and if a girl expresses interest, help her explore that interest. There are plenty of tools (and games) out there that can help a kid create a game while learning the basics of programming. Have more STEM related after school activities, for those who want to explore more outside the classroom. Goodness knows I wished for more computer activities!

In the end it really comes down to if a child expresses interest, help give her the tools to explore that interest and encourage her to do so. Be it a science, technology, math, english, languages, politics, music, theater, or whatever. Because it’s the that unhindered exploration that leads to a lifelong passion.

Connect with Sarah

Thank you Sarah!  We hope you found her story helpful, interesting and inspiring.  If you would like to share your own story, please submit your information and we’ll be in contact soon!

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